Often it’s the best songwriters who seem to fall right under the radar, making their way as a career musician while never fully getting their due. Interestingly, these lesser-known songwriters often garner the most devout fans from fellow musicians. Such is the case with Texas songwriter Adam Carroll. Though he is only forty-two, Carroll’s uncanny ability to weave poetry and vivid character narratives into lyrics puts him right in line with a rich tradition of Texas songwriters that includes the likes of Townes Van Zandt and Terry Allen.
Clearly Adam Carroll has won over the respect of some of the finest songwriters out there given the roster that makes up the new release Highway Prayer: A Tribute to Adam Carroll, due October 28 on Austin-based Eight 30 Records. The album title may insinuate the untimely passing of Carroll, but he is far from dead and it’s a celebration of two decades of music from this songwriter’s songwriter with an all-star list of artists such as James McMurtry, Hayes Carll, Band of Heathens, Tim Easton, Aaron Lee Tasjan, and lots more. In fact, Carroll must be revered if all of these artists are happy to jump on board with a tribute.
One of the standout tunes on the Highway Prayer comes from banjo virtuoso Danny Barnes, best known as a founding member of cult band the Bad Livers and a frequent presence in the bluegrass scene. Barnes covers Adam Carroll’s “Smoky Mountain Taxi” off his 2001 album South of Town, and today we are excited to offer an exclusive premiere right here on Glide Magazine. Barnes’ banjo stylings are a natural fit for the Carroll’s quirky, heartfelt storytelling. It also carries the feeling of rambling along a country Appalachian road, which is also the setting for the song.
“It’s tricky to step into Adam’s shoes,” Danny Barnes says. “You have to figure out, Am I gonna do a straight reading of this or am I gonna try to interpret? I really wanted to have empathy for the main character in the song, the lady. I felt like I related to her in a certain way. I’ve been in a cab in that part of the world and have interacted in that kind of way. I’ve rubbed shoulders with that archetype. I wanted to treat the song with respect and look at the poetry and beauty within there.”
On choosing to cover this song in particular, Barnes says, “I think [Highway Prayer musical director] Lloyd Maines actually talked to me about ‘Smoky Mountain Taxi’ years ago. When I was listening to the track to record this song, I have this vision of Lloyd describing the character in that song. I lived in Austin for about 35 years and I’d hear Adam’s songs on the radio on like [KUT 90.5 FM’s] Folkways. This is such a personal one and Adam’s such a distinctive player and the vibe is so distinctive.”
Highway Prayer: A Tribute to Adam Carroll track listing:
“Screen Door” • James McMurtry
“Girl with the Dirty Hair” • Hayes Carll
“South of Town” • Slaid Cleaves
“Oklahoma Gypsy Shuffler” • Band of Heathens
“Hi Fi Love” • Jamie Lin Wilson (of The Trishas)
“Lil’ Runaway” • Verlon Thompson
“Rain • Scott Nolan
“Old Town Rock N Roll” • Matt the Electrician
“Black Flag Blues” • Tim Easton and Aaron Lee Tasjan
“Smoky Mountain Taxi” • Danny Barnes
“Errol’s Song” • Jason Eady
“Red Bandana Blues” • Terri Hendrix
“Karaoke Cowboy” • Noel McKay and Brennen Leigh
“Home Again” • Mando Saenz
“Highway Prayer” • Walt Wilkins
Bonus track: “My Only Good Shirt” • Adam Carroll
Photo: Danny Barnes (seated) with engineer Russell Tanner and musical director Lloyd Maines.